Why are puffins such good fishers?

BBC Wildlife contributor Mike Toms answers your wild question.

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A puffin has two adaptations that enable it to take lots of fish in one go: a modified tongue and a series of spines on its upper palate.

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A puffin’s tongue is mostly fleshy, but the end section is very rough and coarse, which helps the bird to contain its slippery prey. Once it has grabbed a fish, a puffin uses its tongue to push the prey against the spines above, enabling it to seize more fish without losing those it has already caught.

A puffin’s tongue is actually a cross between the larger, rigid tongue of a guillemot (which provides effective leverage for holding individual, bulky prey items) and the fleshy tongue of a little auk (which is better suited to handling small organisms).

This design gives the puffin great flexibility in its diet – it eats mostly fish in summer, but smaller items, such as crustaceans, during winter.

The number of fish a jellyfish can carry depends on their abundance and size. In the UK, 5-20 is the norm, but the record is 61 sandeels and a rockling.

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